Recently I had the pleasure of meeting the founder of Marine Conservation Philippines (MCP) at their volunteer base in Zombonguita near Dumaguete, Negros Oriental. After a tour of the eco camp facilities nestled in the Botanical Garden Compound of Siit we talked about Marine conservation, MCP and just what it was that this band of upstart scientists, student volunteers and scuba divers were trying to achieve and how they plan to do it!
What's the goal of Marine Conservation Philippines?
It sounds a bit grandiose to say we are involved in the fight for the survival of our oceans, but in a nutshell that's it!We are aiming to further research, educate and facilitate change locally. In each of the areas of science, conservation and education we have a long list of objectives we are working towards. I don't think we can possibly succeed at everything - but we must be ambitious! It's still early days for us, but we're making headway I think. Every day we’re winning small battles - and every time we teach a kid about marine issues or collect a bag of garbage from coral reefs, or help local fishermen restore their marine protected areas, I feel a real sense of accomplishment.
When did you first come up with the idea for MCP?
It’s difficult to pinpointexactly - I suppose it happened gradually. About five years ago I started to have issues with the whole drone-like existence of what I considered normal western life.You know, the whole damaging idea of working long hours at jobs without meaning, to earn money to buy things you don’t need to impress people you don’t care about. I think many people have this, or feel that there's something odd about it all. Don’t get me wrong - I actually liked my job in education, but all the time I had this feeling I couldn’t shake off, of not accomplishing anything real, of not changing anything for the better, of just tutting and shaking my head along with everyone else at how we treat our planet. I think also the sudden death of someone close to me at the time drove the point home, that if there's something you wish to do, you need to start doing it, not just think about it. Suddenlyit’s too late, which with anything climate-related is of course doubly true. The details came later, but the original idea of MCP and the personal motivation was fostered from theserealisations.
How does the volunteer program work? What does it offer?
It offers a chance to get your hands dirty with some pretty interesting work. It's a chance to aid research and help a community. It's very hands on. We ask everyone to stay at least a month, as the training our volunteers go through with the scientific diving takes quite a while. That everyone stays for at least a month, and that many stay for much longer also means that of course close friendships form, and that people start feeling a real sense of ownership of what's going on at our base. We try to let people shape things themselves - sometimes quite literally, there's a lot of play space for creative people. It's the chance to make a difference, it's cold water showers and geckos in the room, it’s scuba diving where none have dived before, it’s camaraderie, it's science and hard work and it's bonfires and marshmallows. All that.
Scuba diving, bonfires and marshmallows? Sound a bit like glorified eco-tourism?
Maybe…Yes. I don’t know. I feel an instinctive knee-jerk reaction to say no, but then I definitely think a lot of what our volunteers do tick some of the same boxes and satisfies some of the same basic desires as tourists are after. There’s the opportunity to learn a lot, it’s adventure, accomplishment, friendship, personal growth, all this. Volunteers expect to get something out of it on a personal level. That’s fair enough, but there’s definite parallels to tourism isn’t there? Ultimately, I think the difference is in the purpose. For us having volunteers isn’t the goal, but the means. We’d love academic or corporate sponsorship, but at the end of the day we’d rather be out there making a real immediate difference than writing grant-proposals. Volunteers allow us to do that, they’re the means as well as the labour. Then it’s not so important what label you put on it I think.
What are you most passionate about?
I’ve always felt in a quiet way, that teachers, for good or bad, are some of the most influential people in peoples lives. Before any of this business happened, I was a high school teacher, and I thought that was very interesting and intense. Imagine that - the chance to influence and shape how someone perceives the world! Now of course I teach scuba diving. To me it’s the best job in the world! Besides the love of the sea, I love the actual teaching aspect. The thing that I enjoy the most is the moment when you can see the lights come on, you know? That second, when some new knowledge suddenly changes how you see something. It's the same with diving - I love to see eyes light up in that "now I get it" look. I can see when someone falls in love with the ocean, and when it happens I feel it’s been a good day.
For more information about MCP, to keep updated with their work or to make enquiries about how you or your company can be involed in the incredible work of MCP visit www.marineconservationphilippines.org
"I can see when someone falls in love with the ocean, and when it happens I feel it’s been a good day."
Mission Statement for MCP
Our underwater world is under tremendous pressure – too much garbage and litter, especially plastic is being thrown in, and too many fish are being fished out. World-wide too little is being done to protect our vital seas. Our mission is to spread knowledge, implement solutions and help try to change the current situation before it is too late. We dream of a future and of a sea where our kids and their kids can still see and marvel at grazing sea-turtles and dugongs, see splendidly rich coral reefs, whales and sharks and seahorses and everything in between. We dream of fishing being conducted in an ecologically sound way, ensuring both the livelihood of local communities and ensuring adequate fish-stocks for the next generations. We dream of clean, pollution free beaches and mangroves.